It’s No 1 vs No 2 in the I-League, and a Kolkata Derby. East Ben­gal will look to widen the gap

The Economic Times - - Sports: The Great Games - Sam Abra­ham

The Kolkata Derby. It re­ally could not have come at bet­ter time, East Ben­gal top of the ta­ble, fol­lowed by Mo­hun Ba­gan — a rare re­ver­sal in re­cent for­tunes. The clash had lost mean­ing for fans out­side the city the past few sea­sons, with the East fail­ing to win a ti­tle since the na­tional league be­came the I-League in 2007 (though they have dom­i­nated the Cal­cutta league, win­ning seven in a row).

Trevor Mor­gan’s di­rect, de­fen­sivelysound play – one goal con­ceded in their last four games – will mea­sure it­self against San­joy Sen’s more at­tack­ing style that uses the tal­ents of Kat­sumi Yusa, Sony Norde and Jeje Lalpekhlua to get be­hind the de­fen­sive line.

East Ben­gal’s rise this sea­son started with the turn­around win against Bengaluru FC. Hav­ing gone a goal down against the cham­pi­ons, they did well to strike back in about five min­utes, and then grab the win­ner in the sec­ond half. Al­bert Roca, BFC coach, spoke of EB’s abil­ity to cre­ate chances with the ‘long ball’ af­ter. “In the sec­ond half… we con­ceded some easy coun­ter­at­tacks. Also we have to check the long balls. They cre­ated many chances with just long balls.”

It was a strug­gle the first two games, draw­ing ver­sus Aizwal and nar­rowly win­ning against DSK Shiva­jians. But hav­ing won against BFC, they’ve dis­patched op­po­si­tion rather eas­ily the next three games.

Robin Singh, Wil­lis Plaza and Wed­son Anselme — who oc­cu­pies the No 10 role more of­ten than not — have formed a sim­ple but ef­fi­cient tri­an­gle up front that also re­lies on crosses into the area from the full­backs (Narayan Das has been rather good go­ing for­ward, and Rahul Bheke has im­proved well af­ter a slow start to the sea­son). All three up front are also ca­pa­ble of phys­i­cally dom­i­nat­ing de­fences. It’d be a tough con­test with in­juries to Eduardo Fer­reira and Raju Gaik­wad hurt­ing Ba­gan’s de­fen­sive line.

Lal­rindika Ralte, a reg­u­lar starter in mid­field, has im­pressed in find­ing spa­ces and the troika within op­po­si­tion de­fences. Robin, who missed all of last sea­son with an in­jury, looks good for a re­turn to form. He’s a real pres­ence in the box and would love to make a come­back to the I-League with a ti­tle win, and a three-point derby would make them early favourites. Ba­gan would need the win to keep up with EB, who’re three points ahead with one ex­tra match played. And they’re also the most likely to un­lock East Ben­gal’s de­fence. Yusa, Norde and Lalpekhlua rep­re­sent the sort of fleet-footed drib­blers that can hurt Mor­gan’s plans. Gur­winder Singh and Ivan Bukenya do well when sit­ting back and ab­sorb­ing pres­sure, but an at­tack mov­ing at pace can un­set­tle the duo, nei­ther of whom are as fast the Ba­gan at­tack­ers. There will also be times when both Bheke and Das will be called on to move for­ward, and there is none like Yusa to un­lock a stub­born de­fence. The ex­pe­ri­enced Ja­panese will be crucial, con­sid­er­ing that they’ve shipped four goals in their last three games (in­clud­ing three goals in two games in the AFC Cup against Colombo FC) and will need at least one goal. The big im­prove­ment over last sea­son is that San­joy Sen can call upon Glas­gow lad Dar­ryl Duffy. He ended last I-League sea­son in good form for Sal­gao­car and has al­ready added six to his league tally this sea­son. He’s quick-wit­ted, strong and great in the air. Sen, who likes to crowd the mid­field with a 4-4-1-1, could start both Pronay Halder, Sehnaj Singh – both hard tack­lers – if he con­sid­ers East Ben­gal ca­pa­ble of dis­rupt­ing his mid­field. He did ac­cept that the op­po­si­tion is play­ing the bet­ter foot­ball, but tried to min­imise the need for a re­sult: “The fans want a win at any cost and we will go all out to get a win. (But) I don’t be­lieve that a de­feat will end our chances to win the ti­tle.” Last sea­son, it was a sec­ond loss on the trot af­ter an un­beaten start — first against Aizwal and then East Ben­gal — that de­railed their sea­son. Sen would be aware of the im­por­tance of keep­ing a record in­tact, and as nei­ther of the teams have lost one so far this sea­son, a draw would make sense tac­ti­cally (they’ve done so three of the last five times). How­ever, con­sid­er­ing it’s the derby, both sets of fans would want the win for brag­ging rights — for what is a ti­tle for ei­ther­with­outaw­ina­gainst their eter­nal ri­vals. East Ben­gal­fan­shad­walked­out last sea­son as they could not un­der­stand the club’s lack of an I-League ti­tle. This could be the sea­son to right that wrong. 4.35pm

East Ben­gal’s Wil­lis Plaza

Mo­hun Ba­gan’s Dar­ryl Duffy

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